Monday, May 5, 2008

Sex and the Smart Girl

This is the penalty for clicking on stupid headlines like "SEX BOMB: Smart ladies have worse sex" at Yahoo's new Shine portal for "women's news." (As if men don't care about the sort of sex their female partners have!) I felt compelled to read the silly thing and then debunk it. If your stupidity tolerance is low today, go read a nice thick novel or even the sports pages. You've been warned.

So a German "study" has ostensibly found that smart women are less likely to have an orgasm. Among survey respondents, 62% of those who completed college-entrance requirements reported trouble coming, versus only 38% of those with less education.

Okay, here comes the scalpel. First, Shine's source on this - that bastion of classy British journalism, the Sun - interpreted the findings for us:
Brainy babes find it harder to have an orgasm – because they are too busy thinking, a study claims.
This is why I spent all those years honing my German skills! So I could be thinking about which verbs are regular and irregular and which nouns get declined, instead of coming like a bonobo! No, wait, I learned German for just this moment, so I can read the original crappy study and tell you why the Sun's report is even more crapalicious.

The German report at the "lifestyle website" beQueen asserted no explanation at all, at least as far as I could see after reading through a whole lot of drivel. BeQueen just reported the stats. But in a game of transnational Telephone, the Sun's interpretation got picked up and smeared all over the Web.

Of course, the next problem with the so-called study is the definition of "smart," again as it's been reported. The study didn't ask about some proxy for intelligence such as IQ. It asked about educational attainment. Obviously that has some correlation with smarts, but it's a loose one, especially in Germany, where social class still shapes young people's educational options to a remarkable extent, mostly due to cultural expectations. There are still plenty of bright young working-class women who don't pursue a college-entrance degree because they and their families set their sights lower.

Note, too, that we're not talking about really high levels of education. The survey distinguished only between the equivalent of an American high school diploma with college-prep coursework, and lower levels of attainment. A very solid majority of American women would fall into the "too educated" group for purposes of this study. The poor frigid gals in question are not a bunch of Ph.D.s, though even if they were - I'm at least one data point that suggests there's no negative correlation between excess education and, um, capacity for pleasure.

Another issue is the study's sample. It was plenty large - over 2000 respondents - but that means very little because it's not representative. Because the respondents were women who randomly chose to answer an online questionnaire, we actually have no idea how representative they were of German women as a whole. What if - for some reason - educated women tend to ignore such surveys as drivel unless they're motivated by frustration, say? Gosh, we don't even have a clue whether all of them were actually women!

Nor did the study have any way to obtain meaningful information on the women's male partners. Since people tend to pair up with their educational equals, what if the problem were educated male partners unable to turn off their thoughts or focus on their partners? What if the survey's real message is that educated men make lousy lovers? Of course, there's no evidence for that either, and I don't believe it for a minutes. But it's instructive that the media response to the beQueen survey has pretty well ignored the invisible men.

Then there's the name - beQueen! - which even by the standards of ludicrous German pseudo-Anglicisms is a real prizewinner. "beQueen ist die Online-Community, in der Frauen sich wie Königinnen fühlen können," says Burda, the mega-publisher behind it - "beQueen is the online community where women can feel like queens." That would be dorky even without the pretentious capitalization. I realize it might not seem immediately relevant to the study, but a name that moronic seems geared to drive away smart readers.

On top of all that, the survey is not confirmed by previous research, which is a decidedly mixed bag. According to Christine Whelan, an expert on single women, a Canadian study found results similar to beQueen's. However, a U.S. study found that educated American women are less likely to report coming every time but more likely to report that they come at least sometimes. An Australian study a few years back, which was larger and representative than beQueen in its sampling, found that greater education enhances women's capacity for orgasm.

Surveys like beQueen's pseudo-science is the sort of sexist pap that the media adores because it confirms so many people's prejudices. As Anne Fitzgerald at Yahoo's Shine points out,
it makes for the kind of story that's ripe for spinning into the quick and easy sexist stereotypes that make you angry (or should)--the uptight brain versus the dumbass blonde with her knees behind her ears, the frigid smarty pants versus the ditzy good-time girl, the pervasive idea that a smart, educated woman can't really enjoy sex, or talking about it or thinking about it ...
Fitzgerald notes that good sex thrives on imagination, creativity, and open-mindedness - all qualities that a decent education ought to develop. At the time the Australian study came out, Carol Lloyd at Salon similarly commented:
One obvious explanation is that educated, wealthier women aren't afraid to ask for what they want in bed. They are likely to be more liberal minded, less controlled by their partners, more open to a multiplicity of techniques and toys.
Yeah, that sounds about right. Women may still find power a turn-on in men (and that'd be a topic for a whole 'nother post). But if they have some real power, autonomy, and security in their own lives, won't they be more likely to pursue their own pleasures?

If you read German at all, you can still take the survey though your answers won't be included in the public results anymore.

The neighbors' rhododendron, shot by me - because flowers and sex are never a bad combination, so long as one's not being used as a bribe for the other.


Smirking Cat said...

I'll toss this into the circular bin along with notions like "Feminists are ugly" and "Boys don't like feminists" and the other shit dished out to make me feel like my strength and standards are bad things.

Sungold said...

And that same shit is intended to make (hetero) feminists feel like they have to choose between men and a fairer world. Or like we might be mistaken for (shudder) lesbians - and not the faux kind in Girls Gone Wild. The horrors!